A few days have already passed since I returned home from Italy. Nice sunny weather, friendly people, good food and wine, and lots of history – this is what Italy is about.
September there is a season for porcini and truffles. So these mushrooms are used everywere – in pasta, pizza, sauces, vegetable pies, carpaccio, on bruschettas… (Sea bass carpaccio with shaved truffles was so incredibly delicious).
Huge baskets or crates full of gorgeous porcini mushrooms at restaurant entrances attract hungry tourists. This time of the year you want (or have) to order some kind of pasta with shaved fresh truffles or meaty porcini. Get a bowl of pappardelle with top quality olive oil or fatty aromatic butter, freshly ground black pepper, topped with fresh paper-thin slices of black truffles – and you are in heaven. It is that simple.
Speaking of Italian food I can say that if you are not in a fancy upscale restaurant, the food is simple, like a ‘grandmother’ cooked. Prosciutto, mozzarella, pizza and pasta are served in all restaurants all around Italy. However, the origin of food components could be different depending on location. In Rome, your prosciutto is likely made from pork and pasta with meat ragu (meat sauce, aka Bolognese) is prepared from pork and/or beef. In nearby Umbria, you can get boar or deer prosciutto and a ragu sauce made from boar ground meat.
Italian ‘mamas’ used to cook ragu for a few hours. I guess because the meat for the sauce was not the best, probably, the toughest cuts. As a result of low and slow cooking the ground meat almost disappeared creating a thick silky sauce. Nowadays we often make the long process shorter so you can feel the pieces of ground meat in a pasta sauce. My husband, by the way, likes a textured meat ragu more.
So, to make low and slow cooking faster and the long story shorter I’m presenting Italian pasta with meat ragu, aka pasta Bolognese which sounds more familiar to an American ear.
In a wide deep pan heat the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté them for 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for 45 seconds.
Add the ground meat and cook for 5-7 minutes breaking the meat with a spatula or a wooden spoon.
Add the seasoning, carrots and tomatoes with their juices. Break the tomatoes with scissors or a spoon (fork). Add ½ cup of water, salt, pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook it to al dente.
Check the sauce. Add ½ to 1 cup of pasta water to make it slightly thinner. Adjust the seasoning.
Drain the pasta, add 1-2 tbsp olive oil and stir.
Serve the pasta topped with the meat sauce. Optionally, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.
For a robust sauce you can replace water with red or white wine.
Cook with pleasure and enjoy the world!